Africa Defense Forum
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Evidence Mounts of Wagner Group Atrocities in the CAR

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Russian Wagner Group mercenaries have been abusing and killing civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2019, according to a recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The United Nations and several governments say that the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company with close ties to the Kremlin, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the Central African Republic’s government have committed grave abuses against civilians with complete impunity,” HRW Crisis and Conflict Director Ida Sawyer said in a statement. “The failure of the Central African Republic government and its partners to forcefully denounce these abuses, and to identify and prosecute those responsible, will most likely only fuel further crimes in Africa and beyond.”

In compiling its report, which was published on May 3, HRW conducted 40 interviews between February 2019 and November 2021.

Russia and the CAR have denied repeatedly that the Wagner Group is in the country.

In HRW’s report, witnesses described a roadblock by Russian men north of the town of Bossangoa in the early morning on July 21, 2021, in which 13 unarmed men on motorcycles were stopped, beaten and shot dead. At least eight bodies were dumped in a shallow hole by the road.

The U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries wrote to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra on September 28, 2021, saying “military personnel and Russian security” were responsible for the attack. The U.N. Working Group also said witnesses to the executions had been “threatened by Russian personnel.”

The CAR government on August 2, 2021, said it would set up a special commission of inquiry to establish responsibility and take appropriate measures. The commission has not published any findings.

More recently, the U.N. investigated a massacre in northeastern CAR on April 11-12, 2022. First reports placed Russian mercenaries at the scene.

“Between 10 and 15 civilians were killed,” the U.N. said in a statement on April 15. “An investigation has been opened by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.”

HRW is demanding further official investigations.

“National judicial authorities, the country’s Special Criminal Court — a hybrid war crimes court based in Bangui — and the ICC [International Criminal Court] all have jurisdiction over serious crimes committed in the country,” HRW’s report recommended. “Credible allegations of abuse, including potential war crimes, by Russia-linked forces or private security personnel in the country should be investigated and prosecuted.”

Sawyer said the CAR must take action to protect its citizens.

“The Central African government has every right to request international security assistance, but it can’t allow foreign forces to kill and otherwise abuse civilians with impunity,” she said. “To demonstrate its respect for the rule of law, and to put an end to these abuses, the government should immediately investigate and prosecute all forces, including Russia-linked forces, responsible for murder, unlawful detention, and torture.”

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